Australian Native Animals: The Endangered Southern Cassowary

As kids, we grew up in the bush. Earlier on, that was in Bamaga, on the Tip of remote Cape York Peninsula. Later, through the end of primary and into high school, we grew up in Mission Beach, in the Wet Tropics rainforest of the East Coast of Far North Queensland.


There, in the depths of the dense, clinging vegetation is a diversity of Aussie species - many of which probably still haven't been described.


Of the species we know, the tiny Musky-rat Kangaroo, Red-legged Pademelon, catbirds, jungle carpet pythons, leaf-tailed geckos and an array of frogs number among the endemic - as does the impressive Southern or Double-wattled Cassowary, Casuarius casuarius.


Sadly, these birds - the second largest bird in the World (by mass, the emu may beat it by height) - the Southern Cassowary is listed as Endangered in Queensland, and Australia. This is due to habitat loss from urban development, dog attacks, car strikes, predation (of eggs) by introduced species like feral pigs, as well as natural factors such as cyclone prevalence, and food availability.


Within Australia, they're supported principally by the rainforest corridor that is the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, as well as isolated populations in Paluma, MacIllwraith Ranges and Jardine River. They're also found in Papua New Guinea, where two other species (and unconfirmed subspecies) exists - the Northern and the Dwarf Cassowary.


Cassowaries are crucial to the survival of rainforests and fringing vegetation communities, as they are a primary seed disperser - known deservedly as a Keystone Species, or role - and without them East Coast vegetation wouldn't be what it is today, and may change irreversibly if we can't conserve this incredible animal into the future.


If you see a Cassowary in the wild, stand your ground. They're curious birds, and if they've been fed by people before they may approach you boldly to tempt food from you. Any fed animal will do this, and it's the consequence of short-sighted people wanting to feed birds, or get that perfect photo. DON'T feed these birds! There's a saying around here - "A fed bird is a dead bird." Why? Not only can birds learn people equal food, that may change their behaviour and trigger a response where they're seen to chase people... where all they want is food, and all you've got to do is stand your ground, and be assertive back. Most importantly, don't feed birds! It may lead to someone else's harm, and also bring them more to roadsides in search of food, and thus more exposed to potential vehicle strikes.


So - just watch and appreciate from a distance! They're gorgeous, vivid, big. Worthy of your respect. Respect them, protect them, and be cassowary wise in cassowary country.